40 Years of Scenario Planning

Shell Oil Company
Google Trends: Design Thinking
Google Trends: “Design Thinking” Searches

We’re All Thinking About Design Thinking

For the past five years, I’ve had a keen interest on innovation processes, such as “designing thinking.” These days the “innovation” and proceses that support innovation like “design thinking” are the buzzwords de jure. The Google Trends chart above shows a skyrocketing increase in “design thinking” search from 2007 to 2012.

Even countries are getting in on “innovation.” The City-State of Singapore is attempting to cultivate innovation entrepreneurs by creating “Stanford University style” dorms and funding co-working spaces. In 2012, the Singaporean Government opened the path for funding co-working spaces, another nod to Singapore’s efforts to provide more flexible and interactive workplace environment. Nearby rival Malaysia is also pouring efforts into innovation as well, with numerous government agencies focusing on “Inovasi.”

Planning the “Long View”

But way before that, I was interested in the larger and more global level of insight than what innovation generally requires: “scenario planning.” I first learned about “scenario planning” from Paul Domjan, who used to work at Shell. He’s currently the Managing Director at Roubini Global Economics, but back then he was my advisor tasked with helping me rework my paper on Kazakistan’s oil pipeline (it was a terrible paper).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srY-hJuqYTM]

Scenario planning goes beyond the 3-5 year timeline you’ll see talked about at conference and focuses on the long-view (20-30 years) at a global level. Shell is one of the big names in modern day “scenario planning” and this year they celebrate their 40 year anniversary of “scenario planning.”

Among it’s achivement, Shell claims their “scenario planning” process has helped them with:

  • Responding to the 1970s Oil Shock,
  • Vision of Post-Apartheid South Africa
  • Responding  to the AIDS Epidemic in Africa
  • Anticipating Increasing Energy-Water-Food Competition

Scenario Planning processes are no secret and Shell, of course, is now one of the many organizations that have resources committed to “long view” planning.

You can use Shell’s “Explorer’s Guide” to try to develop your own scenario planning group. Click here to download the PDF.

Global Trends 2030


Of course, defense and intelligence officials routinely do scenario planning, especially in its oldest form: “war games.” You can get a taste of the Defense/Intelligence scenario planning with the recently released “National Intelligence Council Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds“.

I think any “horizontal-thinking change agent” (to use the trendy buzzwords) should not only focus on innovation and its tools like design thinking, but also take a step back and look at the long view. So in between reading about IDEO and Blue Ocean Strategy, do check out Shell’s “Explorer’s Guide” when you get a chance (see link above).


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Daniel writes on foresight and explores new economic systems. He has over 15 years of experience in technology & digital marketing and has worked with clients in Europe, Asia, and the United States. Daniel is currently part of the University of Houston's Foresight Program.


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